EPWORTH – Mitch Goebel adjusts his helmet, and it’s right back to letting sparks fly.
“It’s more fun to do stuff that I like and hands-on.”
In a 12:00 shop class at Western Dubuque High School, Goebel and almost 30 other students are learning how to use a blowtorch, among other tools.
They’re gaining the skills they need to make some great money right out of high school.
“A lot of kids they decide, ‘Well, wait a minute, I don’t want to go to [a traditional four-year] college,'” says Dave McLaughlin, a vocational manufacturing teacher at Western Dubuque. “‘Maybe I’ll go off to NICC vocational school or maybe I’ll just go to work and see what I feel like.'”
In Iowa, most trade jobs fall in the $40,000 to $50,000 annual salary range, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But throughout the country, there’s a shortage of people who are interested in vocational jobs.
The U.S. Department of Education says in the next five years, there’ll be 68 percent more job openings in infrastructure-related fields than people that have the training to fill them.
But Goebel is just one example of a student who’s working against that trend.
“I think the first year  we had about 45 students [in shop classes],” says McLauglin, “and now last year, [we] probably have 100 kids or a few more.”
That’s more than a 120 percent increase in student interest in just four years.
In fact some of them, like Goebel, already have jobs.
“After this trimester, the first 60 days, I’m gonna start full-time.”
The high school senior already works part-time at Behnke Enterprises, a trailer manufacturing company in Farley, where he clocks in after he’s done with class four days every week.
“The reason I want to just do this then go right into working, well, then I don’t have any college debt or anything,” says Goebel.
“…It would be just more of a waste of my time that I can just start making money.”
And at Western Dubuque, the education these students are getting is top notch.
“It’s kind of nice to have a manufacturer call me up and say, ‘Hey Dave…we hired 4 kids [from Western Dubuque], they’re really, really good.”
Ben Friedman is an anchor and co-executive producer for LCTV News. He is a junior at Loras College from Ankeny, Iowa. Ben enjoys LCTV because it gives him an opportunity to combine creativity and storytelling in a way that helps him provide value to the tri-state community.